Stephen Fry, For One, Is Ready For Britain To Return The Parthenon Marbles

Stephen Fry has likened the removal of the Parthenon marbles from Greece to Nazi Germany stealing the Arc de Triomphe during the occupation of France, and he thinks it would be “classy” if the British Museum returned the ancient sculptures to their original home.

Fry made the comments on the Australian TV series Stuff the British Stole, which airs on the ABC on Monday night.

Speaking to the presenter Marc Fennell, Fry argued that even if there was “the most scrupulously written document” that gave permission to Britain’s Lord Elgin to remove the Parthenon marbles from the Acropolis in 1802, “it’s like saying ‘Well, Germany claims it should have the Arc de Triomphe and there’s the document that proves it.’ But the Nazis were an occupying force. What right did they have to give away parts of France? It wasn’t theirs to give away.”

For the past decade, the actor, comedian and writer has campaigned for the return of the 2,500-year-old sculptures to Greece.

In 2023 he said their removal was the same as “removing the Eiffel Tower from Paris or Stonehenge from Salisbury” and in 2012 he proposed the UK use the 2012 London Olympics to “redress a great wrong”.

The British Museum has held the Greek marbles since 1832. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

“Wouldn’t Britain look classy for doing that?” Fry told Fennell in Stuff the British Stole. “Wouldn’t that be a fantastic feather in our cap? Because they mean so much more to Athens than perhaps we understand.

“What we look for in museums is that they should be ahead of us, not behind us, when it comes to … humankind and its meaning and stories, including the story of what the museum means. [Museums] reveal so much about us.”

The Parthenon marbles, also known as the Parthenon sculptures or the Elgin marbles, were taken from the Acropolis during the Turkish occupation in 1802 by Lord Elgin, then the British ambassador to the Ottoman empire. The legality of their removal has been contested ever since.

This month Turkey rejected the claim that the British lord had received permission from Ottoman authorities to remove any antiquities from the Acropolis.

The marbles have been held at the British Museum in London since 1832.

Last year the British Museum said it was “actively seeking a new Parthenon partnership with our friends in Greece and as we enter a new year constructive discussions are ongoing”.

The Trustees of the British Museum have maintained the sculptures were not stolen and that displaying them in London is an “important representation of ancient Athenian civilisation in the context of world history”.

Fry told Fennell the marbles probably “would be in a worse state, in some ways, had [Lord Elgin] not taken them to London” but he maintained they should be returned as “there is a sacredness about these marbles” among Athenians.

“One of the reasons I want this to go ahead is because of my love for my country, for all its faults, not because I am some sort of traitor,” he added.

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